The upcoming holiday season can be a tough time for many. From the emotional and financial pressure of gift-giving to the social anxiety of holiday parties, these rituals can welcome guests you don’t want at your festivities: anxiety and depression.

In fact, 52% of Canadians report feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation, or loneliness during the holiday season. In addition, almost two-thirds (64%) of people with mental illness say that the holidays worsen their mental state, especially with the current added stress of COVID-19 and the looming recession.

To avoid the onslaught of holiday-induced stress, 45% of Americans say they would prefer to skip the holidays altogether. So, to prevent your mental state from ruining the holiday cheer, here are some ways to cope with stress this holiday season.

1. Set realistic expectations

Let go of the idea of having a “perfect holiday.” Avoid putting pressure on yourself to cook the ultimate holiday feast or getting your spouse the most expensive gift. If people judge you, who cares? At the end of the day, it’s the thought that counts and no one will hold it against you. 

Also, don’t be afraid to say ‘no.’ If you don’t have the funds to participate in your group’s gift exchange, or are not feeling social enough for your office holiday soiree, you can always politely decline. Alternatively, you can set boundaries. For example, when it comes to gifting, you can say “I’m in, as long as we agree not to spend over $10.” This way, you relieve yourself of pressure without having to totally remove yourself from the fun.

2. Take care of yourself physically

The holidays are all about overindulgence (eating a lot, drinking a lot, etc.). So this tip is simple: Try not to over-indulge. Make sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep (at least eight hours), eating healthy (whole foods, fruits, and vegetables), and drinking plenty of water (about 3 litres) every day. We know it’s a busy time of year, but if you can squeeze in a few minutes of exercise every day, it will greatly improve your mental health. And make sure it’s an activity you genuinely enjoy doing. 

Keep your healthy habits at the top of your mind, because if you are in good physical health, it can help stabilize your mood and reduce stress and anxiety.

3. Practice gratitude

Gratitude has been shown to improve mental health. Take a minute to recognize how lucky you are, and count the ways. In a journal, write down three things you’re grateful for everyday. If you enjoy this practice, you can even ask for a gratitude journal for your gift. 

The holidays mark the season of giving, so if you have the means, consider volunteering at or donating to your favourite charities. According to the Cleveland Clinic, there’s a huge link between giving back and positive mental health, as it lowers blood pressure, increases self-esteem, decreases depression, and lowers stress. It also helps spread holiday cheer.

4. Don't be afraid to create new traditions

A terrible excuse for anything is “because it’s the way we’ve always done it.” If you don’t like your holiday traditions, or feel as though your values have outgrown them, don’t be afraid to create new ones. One surefire way to be happier is by being a trendsetter, not a trend-follower. Make sure you are spending your holiday in a way that feels true to you.

5. Ask for help

If all of the holiday-planning has fallen on you, that’s a lot of pressure. So, recruit some help. Don’t be afraid to delegate some of your duties to others. For example, turn your holiday meal into a potluck. If every guest brings one dish, that relieves a huge portion of your workload.

6. Work with a professional

If you feel overwhelmed and just want to talk to someone, seek out a mental health professional. They can help you manage triggers, create coping strategies, and provide support when you need it most.

The holiday season can be full of mental health challenges, but don’t let them take away your holiday spirit. Although it’s the season of giving, remember to put yourself and your mental well-being first.